Friday 29 May 2015

Road Trip Diary: Klamath Falls > Crater Lake> Bend

20. Redding to Klamath Falls
Saturday 23rd May 2015

We left Redding nice and early and drove north past the gigantic Mount Shasta just shy of the border with Oregon. We did some running commentary as we drove past it, googling and reading up about the possibility of it erupting and reminiscing about the volcano epic Dante's Peak. Classic.
We took some snaps, stopped off in a town called Weed (real place!) for some food. If I'm not careful this blog will turn into a diary of the best kitsch signage across the west coast but I just can't help myself.
We bid adieu to California for 22 days and said hello Oregon, the Beaver state!

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21. Klamath Falls to Bend
Sunday 24th May 2015

Our first dud ladies and gentleman. Klamath Falls probably wasn't the best introduction to Oregon. Long roads full of crappy chain stores, a basic motel, nothing interesting nearby and only a Burger King next door for sustenance. We made it work but we were happy to get out of there and on to what we had been really looking forward to, Crater Lake.

Now this is is what we were expecting. Even the Grand Canyon didn't stir me like this place did. All the cliches- breathtaking, awe-inspiring (my face in the first photo below accurately depicts my awe), magnificent. It genuinely didn't look real, the clouds reflecting in the super blue and eerily still waters of the lake made it out to be some piece of photoshop tomfoolery but this was in my actual eyes! We stopped off numerous times on the way around, to see it from various angles and it was stunning from each one. I've never seen anything like it and just thinking about it as I write this gets me a little emotional. This was the Oregon I was expecting.

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We arrived in Bend late afternoon, dropped the car at the motel and walked through an area called the Old Mill District, a relatively new-looking development with a cinema, Victoria's Secret and a load of restaurants all set on the banks of the Deschutes River. As we carried on up to downtown, the setting changed. The familiar grid of an American town returned and the streets were lined with cute little wooden bungalows and porches. We reached downtown, full of independent shops and markets and by this point we needed some refreshment. Mine's a margarita, his a pale ale.

We stopped in at the Pine Tavern for their excellent happy hour ($5 margaritas!), moved a few doors down to Bend Brewing Company to try their beers and then headed back to the Pine Tavern for more beer, some happy hour bar food and to grill the waitress about how Americans 'do' bank holidays seeing as the following day was Memorial Day (much the same as us in case you were wondering). A drunken walk back to the motel confirmed we were both already big fans of Bend.

22. Bend
Monday 25th May 2015

We rose late seeing as today, we didn't need to be anywhere until much later on- the doors for the Robert Plant gig didn't open until 5pm. We got a late lunch next the river before checking out the Les Schwab Amphitheater. It was very cute and almost British in it's quaintness- think a tiny little version of Hyde Park where everyone brings little lawn chairs and there's a white picket fence around the stage. As we were still too early we wandered up to the Deschutes Brewery and bagged four free delicious beer samples- a definite recommendation if you ever find yourself in Bend!

I'm a very big Led Zeppelin fan (me more than Ed) and I love his newer work with the Sensational Spaceshifters, so we had shuffled our itinerary around to make sure we were in Bend to coincide with Mr Plant. Unfortunately the amphitheater had strict rules on cameras with lenses (all cameras that weren't phones basically) so no photos but I can assure you he was awesome. His voice was top notch, the band were as brilliant as ever and he had perfect Englishman banter. The atmosphere was lovely and they played a great mix of old and new songs. I shed a few tears at Going to California, prophetic for us as it was, and I skipped home later on that familiar gig high.

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23. Bend
Tuesday 26th May 2015

Waking with thumping headaches and yearnings for coffee, we drove downtown to Thump Coffee, voted best local coffee in Bend four years running and mentioned to us via a couple of personal recommendations. After a latte and bagel for me (both very good) and a cookie and americano for Ed, a little debate about which is better, the populist doughnut or the humble cookie, we took a walk around downtown Bend, browsed the shops and made our way back to the motel for a little nap*.

For dinner, we popped into the Old Mill District again for four courses at a seafood restaurant called Anthony's (salad, bread, starter, great fresh garlic prawns, cod fillet and a little fudge sundae all for the bargain price of $22 per person) and a final walk around the river.
We were very sad to leave Bend. Loved the beer, all the people were really friendly and relaxed, the food had been the best we had come upon so far and the weather kept its promises. A brilliant three days all round.

*We are famous for our naps, especially holiday naps, but we are seriously lacking so far. Not many will believe it, but this was our first. Promise.

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Sunday 24 May 2015

Road Trip Diary: Sutter Creek > Grass Valley > Redding

17. Fresno to Sutter Creek
Wednesday 20th May 2015

Hands down, Sutter Creek has been our favourite place so far. It's an old gold mining town from the 1840's and many of the old brick buildings are still standing with their wooden frontages and pastel colours. It's now mainly a tourist town but was relatively quiet the days we were there due to it being midweek.





The weather was perfect, clear and warm, so we wandered the shops. Ellie loved it, full of antique malls as they call them here, a bit like an emporium with lots of different sellers under one roof and full of weird and wonderful things. We especially liked Lizzie Ann's Bubblegum Books, a second-hand book shop also crammed with vintage china and other random stuff. Ellie bought a couple of hideous vintage sweaters and a Sutter Creek patch and we carried on through the shops.  

We decided we deserved a nice meal after a few too many roadside burgers so we booked a table at a hotel restaurant called The Sutter. The whole front of the restaurant opened up on to the pavement and the warm breeze made a decent accompaniment to a lovely meal. Afterwards we sat in the bar trying to figure out baseball but sadly we're still none the wiser!




18. Sutter Creek to Grass Valley
Thursday 21st May 2015

Awaking after a decent nights rest at Days Inn Sutter Creek, we had seen online that there was a pretty amazing antique shop right up our street, Gothic Rose Antiques in Placerville. A little bit incense-scented Camden market, it was full of black velvet and faux Victoriana but buried beneath it were a few gems. Some great old gothic medical equipment, taxidermy, household items and Ellie found a tarnished old star picture holder for $25 dollars. We had a chat with the really nice shop boy about Ye Olde England and how obsessed 'we' (as in the whole of the UK apparently) are with the royal family. We smiled, nodded a lot, said farewell and had a little laugh afterwards.

Placerville also had some pretty old signage and buildings, plus lots of odd references to the IOOF which we discovered later stood for the Independent Order of Oddfellows (pretty long winded to explain so have a read here). The chain link stands for 'Friendship, Love and Truth'.




On the drive to Grass Valley later on, we realised that in the 18 days we'd been in the U.S. I had already eaten 9 burgers. One every other day. Bloody hell.
We drove through a town called Cool, which was cool. In fact, everything in Cool was named cool. Cool Cleaners, Cool Cafe, Cool Dentist, Cool Gas. Well played Cool, well played.

Grass Valley was another old mining town but was quite a lot bigger than Sutter Creek. We browsed the town centre and Ellie made me pose with an owl. We checked into the motel,  had a lazy afternoon browsing the supermarket for a microwavable dinner to eat at the motel and grabbing a Starbucks where the barista told us she wanted our accents. People are really very nice here!


19. Grass Valley to Redding
Friday 22nd May 2015

We ate lunch at In'N Out Burger in a place called Chico (all we could think of was 'It's Chico Time!' Such Brits) and I was now onto my 10th burger so I'm obviously aiming for a record!
After arriving early at our stay in Redding, a motel called Thunderbird Lodge with an amazing sign, we looked up things near by to do and found Whiskeytown Lake so jumped in the car and drove a few miles down the road. The lake was huge, very peaceful and full of wildlife including a couple of woodpeckers and some local teenagers hanging out on the beach.

We found some more stunning signage the next morning near where we were staying- The Stardust Motel and The Americana Lodge- but sadly their neon looked the most impressive thing about them and both looked a bit run down.

Tomorrow, Oregon!







Saturday 23 May 2015

Road Trip Diary: Death Valley > Bakersfield > Fresno

13. Las Vegas to Death Valley
Saturday 16th May 2015

After an amazing wedding on Thursday and a day nursing our hangovers by wandering the strip and napping on Friday, we were off to Death Valley. We had visited Death Valley in 2011 so we knew what to expect from the lowest point in North America and were really looking forward to the heat, the silence and some quality swimming pool action- they have a spring fed pool which is so much better than a chlorinated one.

Thanks to our obsession with The Weather Channel we also heard that there was a severe cold front hitting the Sierra Nevada area over the weekend and following week. We checked on Friday and the weather for Yosemite (which we were due to drive to after Death Valley) looked particularly miserable. Rain, temperatures in single figures and warnings of dangerous driving conditions were not what we had packed for. We were meant to be staying in a canvas tent and so sadly, we made the tough call to remove Yosemite and Lake Tahoe from the itinerary. We had to re-route from Bridgeport>Yosemite>Lake Tahoe to Bakersfiefld>Fresno>Sutter Creek>Grass Valley>Redding to allow us to arrive for our pre-booked motel in Bend, Oregon on Sunday 24th May.

We shared a coffee with the newly weds and their family before leaving Las Vegas for good. It would be 67 days before we would see a familiar face again other than our own mugs!
Moving from the garish sights and loud noise of Vegas to the moonscape of the desert for 2 days was the perfect tonic for some sore heads.

Ellie spotted the Amargosa Opera House so we pulled over to take some photos. If you don't know the weird history behind it, have a read here.









Once we arrived at the Furnace Creek Ranch we quickly got changed, applied the sun cream for the 30+ degree heat and decamped to the pool. The ranch has everything you would need on site: three restaurants, a saloon bar and general store plus lots of other amenities.  It is needed though as there is nothing close by that remotely resembles civilisation but this also means everything comes at a premium- the groceries are a lot more expensive, as are the restaurants, but for a couple of nights we didn't mind forking out a bit more.

We were staying in a little cabin which comes with it's own porch and rocking chairs which we took advantage of, playing cards and drinking some ice cold beers. It was lovely to sit outside and enjoy the heat. It was the first time it genuinely felt like a summer holiday as up until now the weather hadn't been as hot as we had expected.



14. Death Valley
Sunday 17th May 2015

This was our lazy day. We woke early, got down to the pool before the heat got too high, put some laundry on (two weeks of dirty clothing!) and went back to video call my parents. We ate at the little saloon bar, drank beer and margaritas and then I suggested it was time for a couple of tequila shots, a decision I instantly regretted.
We were sat outside the bar, being merry and playing rummy when suddenly the weather changed and a crazy wind picked up. It kicked up the sand and we had to scamper back to our cabin, trying now to get grit in our eyes. It was very weird to see it raining in Death Valley, where the hottest temperature on earth was recorded so we sat out in it for a few minutes, just to see what it was like.



15. Death Valley to Bakersfield
Monday 18th May 2015

We begun the new route to the north by making the four hour drive to Bakersfield. We hadn't done a huge amount of research into this journey so didn't know what to expect on the road. Leaving the long and winding road through the mountains that enclose Death Valley took longer than expected and once we reached highway 395, we had expected to find some towns en route to grab some lunch. However, mile after mile flew by and it became clear that there was nothing to see or anywhere to stop for food. Not to put down the views, but there is only so many times that the desert and hills that pepper this environment can impress.

It was driving over one of these hills on highway 14 to Bakersfield, that something that we hoped wouldnt happen, happened. A lorry speeding in the opposite direction kicked up a large stone which hit our windscreen with a loud bang. It made a star shaped crack and shook us up a bit.
We finally spotted the Jawbone Canyon store and pulled in for a sugar hit and contacted our road assistance people who sorted it for us to swap the car in Bakersfield, which we did relatively smoothly.

We finally got to the motel later on, stopped by the pool for a bit and grabbed a couple of beers to chill out on the terrace. Three coach loads of French tourists then turned up and livened up the place a bit, all jumping in the pool in the dark and generally having a jolly old time.

16. Bakersfield to Fresno
Tuesday 19th May 2015

Travelling north to Fresno we noticed the land changing. There were massive cattle farms, huge fruit producing fields and orchards and the flat landscape was very different to what we had been used to seeing.
We grabbed an iced coffee and made our way to the hotel. On the way Ellie spotted a sign for a vintage furniture store. We made a quick turn off the road and stumbled upon New Vision. It was full of mid-century furniture and cute little knick knacks. After meeting the owners and having a friendly chat about London and our trip, we all took a few photos and a photo of us looking very British made it onto their Instagram feed.

Piccadilly Inn Shaw in Fresno was our next hotel.  Greeted by a lovely big room, the pool was calling us and we spent a good couple of hours laying by it before grabbing a Domino's ($5.99 for a medium pizza here!) and retiring to bed.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Road Trip Diary: Neon Wedding Bells in Las Vegas

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Wednesday May 13th - Friday May 15th 2015

We’re not into gambling or yard-long slushy cocktails or Britney Spears (shocking, I know) but the opportunity to attend a wedding in Las Vegas was something we couldn’t pass up, especially the wedding of two such good friends, Kirsty and Paul.
We were staying at the same hotel we were in on our first night, Excalibur. Somehow, we managed to get a MUCH nicer room this time which made us so happy. The last one had been a bit of a dive and we were here for three nights this time. At about £50 a night, it's one of these cheapest on the strip. It's within walking distance to everything and apart from the weird smell everywhere, it's not that bad at all.

We arrived Wednesday afternoon and met up with the nearly-weds to have lunch at The Park on Fremont (Tip: highly recommended, very good chicken burger!) and visit The Neon Museum, a place I had been desperate to visit since we missed out on tickets last time we were in Vegas in 2011.

The museum houses a lot of the old neon signage from infamous casinos and restaurants in Vegas that have either rebranded or have closed down. We booked tickets in advance via the website for a mere $18. This gets you a one hour guided tour slot in the ‘boneyard’. Tip: They are strict here- no backpacks past reception, no video or recording equipment and no additional camera lenses so bear that in mind if you’re planning a visit.

Your guide will talk you through the history of the signs, littered with anecdotes about Vegas, it’s residents and information about how the museum came to be. It was great but I did notice our small group didn’t seem to be listening that well, we were too interested in taking photos of all the incredible signs. This was the only awkward part- our guide was full of information but there wasn’t any breathing space to break away and take photos so we ended up having to do two things at once.

As a hardcore neon fan, this place was a dream come true. The are hundreds of signs all tightly crammed in to a relatively small space and the level of restoration is different on all of them. Some are in their original state and others have been fully redone with brand new LED lights. We're didn't visit at night (you can do a night time tour for a couple of extra dollars) so sadly didn't see any of them in their full glory, but the level of detail you can see in the day light more than makes up for it.

It is amazing how America is obsessed with neon signage. Every town and city we've driven through so far has at least one amazing example of neon artwork advertising everything from diners to gentlemen's clubs (Girls! Girls! Girls!) to gas stations.

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The wedding on Thursday was truly epic. We were picked up from the hotel in an open top bus and driven to the Chapel of Flowers, not one of your usual little white chapels, this was really beautiful and away from the main strip so nice and peaceful. We jumped back on the bus after the lovely ceremony and were serenaded by Elvis as we took a tour of Vegas, provided with beers and wine and made a stop at the famous sign for photos. It was such a great way to see everything! We were dropped off at Caesars Palace and headed up to a private balcony at the Planet Hollywood restaurant inside. We ate our meal overlooking the strip which was very special- nothing like eating a good steak under the glow of neon! Then the usual wedding fun ensued- speeches, dancing and lots of laughter as the night wore on. Sadly no photos as I didn't take my main camera but lots on our Instagrams which can be found in the sidebar just to your right >>

A brilliant day and a great stay in Vegas with friends but we were very much looking forward to our next couple of days. Some quiet time in Death Valley...
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